A local craft brewery is taking advantage of a changing market for retail beer sales by drastically expanding their production and making the switch from selling beer mainly in bottles to mostly in cans.
Royal City Brewing began selling their locally-made suds about three-and-a-half years ago.
Russell Bateman, Royal City Brewery co-owner, said LCBO’s expansion into selling more craft brews — as well as the recent introduction of beer sales to supermarkets — has changed the way people buy beer.
“(Cans) seem to be the preferred format these days with people crushing their cans, as opposed to carrying bottles back,” said Bateman.
The craft brewery has made small batches of canned beer in the past, but newly-installed equipment has drastically increased their rate of production.
We were basically doing four to six cans a minute, at best. That was just to see if there was a market there for it and if people were interested in us doing cans,” said Russell.
Beer from the craft brewery is currently found in 220 LCBO locations, as well as 35 Sobey’s grocery stores.
Bateman and business partner Cam Fryer made an application for a government grant to purchase a new canning assembly line and increase production.
“Essentially for us, it allows us to increase our packaging rate from six 500 millilitre bottles per minute to 25 to 30 cans a minute,” said Bateman.
“It would have taken two-and-a-half full days to empty an entire tank, it took us three hours yesterday. For us, that’s huge in terms of how much beer we can get out the door,” said Fryer.
The new equipment will allow the pair to grow the business.
“We started off way below where we needed to be in terms of capacity and production capability because of money. We bought as much as we could afford, then basically spent the time growing into where we should have been when we started,” said Fryer.
He added, “with more revenue we can hire more people and make more beer.”
The grant program, called Growing Forward 2, provided almost $42,000 toward the purchase and operation of the new equipment.
“It’s a joint provincial and federal initiative that is spending money on the agriculture and food sector — and brewing is part of that,” said Fryer.
The cans for each of the different beer types Royal City sell each bear an icon suggesting what type of glass to use and text describing how bitter it is and suggested food to pair with it.
The cans also feature a simple map of Victoria Road South and York Street, the cross streets where the brewery can be found.
“We love the LCBO and all the outlets are great, but we want people to come to the brewery to buy because I don’t have to ship,” said Bateman.
Over just the first two days of production with the new equipment, the company is on pace to have more than 11,000 cans filled and ready for sale.
The brewery is still maintaining a bottling line for their specialty products, and customers can still come in to the brewery to purchase growlers.
“Things like high-alcohol Belgian beers and things like that — we don’t really want to put in a can. It just doesn’t seem fitting,” said Bateman.
With their beer in 150 bars and counting, Bateman said the cans will also have the added benefit of allowing bar owners to bring in smaller amounts for their customers before committing to buying kegs from the brewery.
The business partners grew up in Aurora and both transplanted to Guelph permanently after attending the university about 18 years ago.
The city of Guelph and some of its landmarks is featured across much of the brewery’s product line — like Suffolk St Session Ale — which doesn’t always translate to beer buyers from out of town.
Gordon Hill Hefeweizen is a seasonal brew that references the hill on Gordon Street.
“Everyone is like, ‘who is Gordon Hill?’" said Bateman.
"It’s not a person, it’s a place,” he quipped.